The Hits of 1985

Events, trends, and fads


The year 1985 saw the increase of the incidence and awareness of the AIDS virus. Many countries instituted screenings of the blood supply and of blood donors to prevent its spread. The mental virus of terrorism unfortunately spread too as TWA Flight 847 was hijacked, and on the sea the same happened to the cruise ship Achiile Lauro. The Unabomber's first victim died, the target of a domestic terrorist, a new idea for most Americans. Dying Ethiopians drew attention to a huge problem, one that was soon addressed in the music world. In technology, costs of CD players and other consumer electronics continued to drop, and Microsoft released version 1.0 of a little operating system they called Windows. Coca-Cola released New Coke and it never got past 1.0, being taken off the market a mere 6 months after its introduction.
What happened in 1985's music?
While MTV was gaining a following among younger music fans, VH-1 appeared with the goal of appealing to older folks, and it was a popular idea. Soon there would be music videos and networks for country music too. Royalties for the group Badfinger are finally paid out to families of deceased members and to surviving members afters years of litigation. Reaching Hundreds of thousands of dollars, these payments were too late for at least 2 members who committed suicide over financial problems - Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Towards the end of the year, the metal band Judas Priest was sued by a family claiming that the band's music drove their  son to suicide - and not because it was so bad. The suit was not successful, but it was indicative of the fear of new music that was felt in the heartland.
Live Aid
The big musical news of the year was the charity concert instigated by Bob Geldof, known forever as Live Aid. Conceived as a response to the terrible suffering going on in Africa due to drought and famine, it followed in the footsteps of George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh and other charity events. But the scope and ambition of Live Aid was unprecedented. Held on both sides of the Atlantic, and televised around the world, the concert featured world-famous artists, and the temporary reunion of Led Zeppelin besides. Prior to the concerts, the song We Are the World also demonstrated how rock and pop musicians could use their popularity and power to raise money for a cause. The whole thing was quite a spectacle, and quite successful. Unfortunately, it wasn't one of Bob Dylan's shining moments - neither his appearance nor his part on the song.
Hits and Misses
The top song worldwide was apparently not hurt by Dylan's small vocal contribution - We Are the World was number 1. A song by a-ha called Take On Me was number 2 around the world, and Foreigner had number 3 with the power ballad I Want to Know What Love Is. The English synth-pop duo Tears for Fears held number 4 with Shout, and the number 5 song worldwide was Madonna's Into the Groove. Both Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger debuted as solo artists on the album charts, and the world mostly yawned, while Sting's first solo effort, Dream of the Blue Turtles, was better received despite the clumsy name. Dylan was very visible in 1985 - in addition to appearances at Live Aid and Farm Aid, he released Empire Burlesque, and toured the world with a great little back-up band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Neil Young capped a trilogy of weird albums including Trans and Everybody's Rockin' with the trad country Old Ways.
Pop Keeps Poppin,' Rock Keeps Rockin'
Madonna led the pack when it came to making hits for the dance floor, but many others were getting into the groove and on MTV. Take On Me was a great dance song, as was Sussudio by Phil Collins, West End Girls by Pet Shop Boys, and many others joined the line-up. But rock was in good form this year, with Springsteen's Born In the USA yielding several hits, Mellencamp doing his own heartland rock on Scarecrow, John Fogerty running to Centerfield, the Smiths and the Waterboys rocking for the UK, and even Bryan Adams talking about a long-ago summer, in 1969.


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